on the News
Belligerence surfaced on a couple of occasions, when opposition forces
heckled union representatives while they were speaking. Bunce drew a
loud response when he called project opponents "obstructionist,"
as did Teamster representative Rodney Van Voorhis of Local 445 out of
Newburgh when he taunted several Onteora students carrying placards.
Fratto, Assistant Business Manager of the International Brotherhood
of Electrical Workers out of Harriman, got both sides of the audience
on their feet when he told those opposing the Gitter proposal, students
and local alike combined, to "grow up," called the region's
second homes a sign of gluttony, then suggested that if people really
wanted wilderness experiences in the Catskills, they might consider
destroying those second homes.
of the union speakers, which included a representative of the AFL/CIO
out of Rockland County, talked about the need for "quality jobs"
in the area and Gitter's promise to "hire locally."
as the union forces started to leave two hours into the eight hour meeting,
a survey of twenty-eight of them revealed that the closest had come
from Liberty, in neighboring Sullivan County, or Gardiner and Lloyd
in southern Ulster County. They all said they'd been told to come via
e-mails and phone calls because their presence could "assure us
jobs down the line when he project starts," as Robert Piatt of
Local 417, Ironworkers, put it.
and his union-mate, James Hubbard of Newburgh, said they'd been given
the idea that a moratorium on all development and construction was to
be set in place in the Catskills. It was their first time in the area.
They said from what they could see driving up Route 28 from the Thruway
to Boiceville, there was already enough wilderness around not to heed
a Not-In-My-Backyard opposition to a resort that would bring good jobs.
is definitely the sticks out here," Hubbard said.
who also serves as President of the Catskills Casino Coalition, which
has been lobbying for gambling as a salve for the region's economic
problems, publicly referred to a Project Labor Agreement he made recently
with Gitter, based on the developers' promise "that local labor
will be utilized throughout the various phases of the project."
by phone from his Orange County offices after the hearing, Bunce said
that he had signed the "front end" of a deal for the initial
construction phase of the Belleayre resort project "about a year
ago." He then explained that "local" refers to a seven
county area, union-wise. He urged those who were non-union workers looking
for jobs from Shandaken and neighboring towns to apply for apprenticeship
positions with the various trades as a means of getting on the proposed
a lot of the local non-union guys up there just don't have the manpower
to proceed with a job of this sort," Bunce said. "I know Catskill
Corners used local, non-union labor, but this is a different thing altogether."
how, when, and why did the word go out to the various unions' rank and
file to show up en masse for the February 19 hearing?
said that he had been keeping tabs on the string of hearings that started
in mid-January and "felt there had to be some people up there speaking
for the project." He arranged attendance with "Gitter's people"
over recent weeks.
said that he had organized his union's attendance after Bunce told him
that Crossroads was seeking union help at the hearing. "We're for
this project until told otherwise," Fratto said, explaining how
he'd put the word out to 150 of his unemployed rank and file the day
before. "They came because they want the work and know this is
how they're going to get it."
whether anyone had been reimbursed for travel expenses, Bunce replied,
"Absolutely not! Did you ask that question of the people who spoke
against the project?"
for any possible tie-ins to his other job as a casino advocate, the
labor organizer spoke of how all deals were currently for casinos down
in the Route 209 corridor. He said he didn't think that Route 28 could
handle such traffic. But then Bunce raised the subject of Senator John
Bonacic's recently proposed legislation to open up gambling into Greene
County and other areas, and remove the need for any tie-ins to Native
the entire hearing process for the Belleayre Resort DEIS, advocates
of the massive development -- which would place two golf resorts, two
hotels, and multiple time share homes and condominiums along the ridgeline
surrounding the state-owned Belleayre Mountain Ski Center - have lauded
the project's promise of local jobs cutting back on local residents'
need to go elsewhere, from Olive to Kingston, for employment.
speakers focused on issues of community character and possible pollution.
D'Orazio, president of the Onteora School Board, read a statement from
the district outlining its concerns regarding increased traffic on Route
28. Monla Davenport, President of the Catskill 3500 Club and a member
of the Woodstock Civic Design Committee, spoke of the Catskill Park's
concept of wilderness and how the project would harm the Catskill Park's
inherently special qualities. Dr. Mac Lipkin of Chichester spoke on
behalf of the many second homers who make the area home and are against
the project, later challenging Fratto on his call to take down second
homes if people wanted wilderness.
on his experience as former President of the Bowery Savings Bank and
Executive Director of the Federal Savings and Loan Insurance Corporation
following the S&L debacle of the 1980s, which he helped pull the
nation out of, attorney Stuart D. Root of Roscoe outlined potential
problems with the funding behind Belleayre Resorts.
Crossroads venture simply does not pass the smell test," Root said.
"Gitter's ability to start ripping up the mountainside is not in
question. Rather it is his ability to complete the project, involving
some of the most difficult of all improvements to finance, namely time-shares.
Many institutional lenders will not touch such fragile real estate structures.
So where is Mr. Gitter getting his funds? And if he cannot say,
for whatever reason, should he be allowed willy-nilly to 'start' construction?"
date, Gitter has explained his financing plans in terms of investors,
the only visible team currently being that of Morgan Stanley Dean
Witter Chairman Richard Fisher and Fisher's ex-wife Emily.
how large development financing on the scale Gitter is proposing usually
works, Root spoke of two basic steps. First, a lending institution is
approached, usually a large bank or investment house at such a large
level. The developer lays out his plans, including how he plans to pay
back whatever loans are granted. Second, the lending institution seeks
protection against its own shareholders, whose money they will be doling
out, so they don't end up with a hole in the ground if the project fails-
usually in the form of some sort of bonding.
this situation, what Gitter's basically doing is blowing smoke by saying
he's got deep pockets so no one should be asking such questions,"
Root said. "He's making it all look very cozy- and yet we haven't
seen a single commitment from any of the people behind all of this."
views were repeated, and augmented, by apartment house developer Larry
Ravitz of Takoma Park, MD in a separate interview.
entire real estate financing world is in flux, Ravitz said. Fears in
the development industry are that the low interest rates that have fueled
construction in recent months cannot hold indefinitely, that they're
an aberration that will eventually face correction, likely after the
election. When that happens, he said, the costs for those seeking to
buy, rent, or in Gitter's case, visit a resort like the proposed Belleayre
Resort will go up far beyond what's now being touted. And that could
spell serious trouble.
all comes down to how quickly one can build right now," Ravitz
said. "You don't want to end up with an albatross. The big risk
any developer takes is that the interest rates will go up before you've
finished what you're doing."
course, our investors are going for a non-recourse basis for whatever
they have in the project," an officer at Crossroads Ventures'said
after being told of Root's comments, and Ravitz's questions. "I
can't speak about how much equity our investors have at this point!
Whatever it is, it is. And it will all be at risk."
when reached for comment, hung up the phone when asked about financing.
think the investors would rather not talk on the record about financing
other than that there have been any number of meetings with people in
the (resorts) industry who have given them encouragement. They say this
year, compared to last year, is really looking up, especially since
the hit the entire industry took back with the 9/11 tragedy," the
Crossroads' official continued. "There are people the investors
are in regular touch with who do all sorts of analyzing of the industry."
asked again about financing assurances, the official said that "some
major banking or pension funds" would be used.
does this Mr. Root think he's such an expert," the official concluded.
at the Onteora High School hearing, a letter was read by Jon Griesser,
a 1994 Onteora graduate. Co-signed by 17 Onteora and Margaretville High
School graduates of recent years, Griesser's comments focused on the
jobs issues Gitter's advocates have repeatedly alluded to, saying that
as far as most of the young locals he knew thought, they'd rather have
wilderness than resort jobs. He further posited that any pollution harming
the New York City watershed the project's in the middle of, or even
an angering of the city, could lead to the need for the city to build
a long-averted filtration system that would effectively end New York's
current funding of development loans and grants to the region.
Rookie Review Board
Kalb, a former chairman and 5-year veteran on the board, gave notice
of his departure in late January, citing frustrations including the
board's slow progress in beginning study of the Belleayre Resort project.
He will be taking a job with the nascent Catskills Watershed Museum,
being run by Belleayre Resort project manager Gary Gailes.
McGowan, a town board candidate in the last election, had been appointed
to the planning board last year but was never administered his oath
of office, an omission requiring his removal under state law. Rather
than reappointing him and having the oath administered, Supervisor
Cross instead announced that the town board would seek new applicants
for the position.
Setchko was widely seen in GOP circles last year as developer Dean
Gitter's candidate for town supervisor, narrowly losing that ballot
slot to Bob Cross Jr. at the party's June caucus. He is on record
as opposing any role for the planning board beyond its 60-day maximum
site-plan review, and has publicly questioned whether the town needs
to take any role at all in reviewing the Belleayre Resort's Draft
Environmental Impact Statement.
In recent years, planning board appointments have taken on a heightened
significance, as the board has broad authority in the conduct of SEQRA
reviews and will ultimately vote on the issuance of building and other
permits for the proposed Belleayre Resort project.
Meanwhile, the Planning Board's future chairmanship remains uncertain.
Current Chair Beth Waterman appears to have the confidence of
her fellow planners, who have voted twice this year that she be reappointed
as chair by the new administration. In January, the Planning
Board's vote in favor of her chairmanship was 6 members in favor and
Bob Kalb abstaining. A second vote February 16 without McGowan present
yielded 5 members supporting Waterman, and Kalb opposed.
To date, Supervisor Cross has given no indication the town board will
abide by the planning board's choice, beyond a comment at February's
town board meeting that an overwhelming vote of the planning board
would be "significant" in the town board's decision.
According to Cross, "It's not clear to me whether or not there's
going to be a chairperson appointed in March."
Reached for comment on the continuing uncertainty of her reappointment,
Waterman would say only that, "I hope the town board's decision
will reflect the best interests of all the residents in the town of
Winters said, "One of my strengths is bringing groups together,"
as she described her methods for healing splits within a community.
"It takes a lot of sitting around a table and talking in a productive
way. At some point you cut through to what the anger's about and come
up with a strategy. Administrators need to hear and understand both
sides and always put the children first. Later on it helps to have
a whole new positive initiative rather than focusing on the negative."
In the case of Webatuck, the construction of a middle school, their
first capital project in fifty years, brought people together.
A reorganization occurred when their two kindergarten through third-grade
schools were experiencing an imbalance in class sizes. Busing was
used to solve the problem but resulted in resentment from parents
when children living across the street from one school had to ride
to the other school. Finally it was acknowledged that declining enrollments
and the space offered by the new middle school would make the smaller
elementary school unnecessary.
"It took two or three painful meetings," said Winters, "but
even the teachers realized that there would be advantages to having
more classes in one school, allowing team teaching. The children felt
it least. They're all right as long as they're with their teachers
and peers." Now the district is negotiating to rent out the vacant
school as a Veterans Administration clinic.
Winters suggested that having more stable leadership at the school
will be helpful. One of the new superintendent's first tasks will
be to hire a replacement for Woodstock's interim principal, Bob Keagle,
successor to a number of principals who lasted only a year or two.
When asked how Winters would deal with teachers who were resistant
to change. Winters described a conflict between teachers and parents
at the middle and high school in her district after the institution
of block scheduling, which divided the day into 90-minute blocks,
with students taking only three courses per semester. Parents felt
their children were missing important subjects in alternate years
and had overloaded responsibilities in some grades. Teachers, who
liked the depth of instruction this schedule afforded, felt attacked.
The solution was to conduct a survey and solicit reactions to the
issue, as well as research what was happening in other districts.
The final recommendations were to switch back to 45-minute classes
at the middle school and to provide training for teachers to help
them utilize the high school's 90-minute blocks better.
Winters said staff development was a priority in her district.
And what about possible tax increases?
"We had the same budget challenges as every other district last
year," Winters said. "We met with our curriculum leaders
and parent groups, and we ended up cutting 8.5 teaching positions,
or ten percent of our teachers. We had to demonstrate why, for example,
a second art teacher was not needed at the high school. We have extremely
conservative factions in the community and on the board who always
agitate for lower taxes."
In her seven years at Webatuck, all her budgets have passed, with
tax levy changes varying from a 1.1 percent decrease to a 4.4 percent
increase. Onteora's last two increases have hovered around nine percent.
In response to a question about the need to improve technology resources
and instruction, she said an upgrade was accomplished at Webatuck
by obtaining grants from politicians. Many teachers offered resistance,
but training was made mandatory, and the teachers went from 20 percent
to 90 percent participation in the use of computers in the classroom.
Winters emphasized the need for integration of computers into the
curriculum, as well as a technology plan to drive changes.
Regarding the Federal government's No Child Left Behind Act, she commented,
"I'm not confident it will really help. It's not being well thought
out. Some of the tests are not designed by educators but are contracted
out to companies. I'm disappointed portfolio assessment is not part
of the process. A one- or two-day test shouldn't be the only measure
of a student's abilities."
Finally, Winters has noted that after state
commissioner of education Richard Mills ordered districts with Indian
mascots to reassess their policies-after Onteora's mascot debacle-Webatuck
organized a study group to discuss their team name, the Webatuck Warriors,
and their symbol, an Indian head with headdress. While some people
felt the team name implied violence, the final decision was that it
had a positive connotation that could be applied in many areas of
life and was not specific to Native Americans. The symbol's headdress,
however, was deemed to be out of place, since it represented the dress
of a Plains Indian, not of the Mohicans who had lived in the local
area. The board commissioned a local children's book illustrator to
research the region's past and provide them with an inspirational
artwork. He painted a landscape of the Webatuck Creek with a canoe
and a cluster of small structures among a grove of trees. Students
will work with his images to come up with a school symbol that is
more historically appropriate, said Winters, "possibly a man
and woman in a canoe." She mentioned that she had taught for
some time on the Onondaga Reservation in central New York State.
Winters formerly worked as a teacher and an administrator at the Wappingers
school district, where her two daughters went to school. One of them
received, upon graduation, a portfolio representing her work from
kindergarten through twelfth grade. Asked if she
were tough enough to stay the course at Onteora, Winters replied,
"I'm challenged when the going gets tough. Being nice doesn't
mean you can't make tough calls and draw a line in the sand."
Trustee Neil Eisenberg added, "I'm proud to have been part of the
process" of hiring Winters, a task which he said was done carefully,
thoroughly, and with the input of all constituencies.
Board member Herb Rosenfeld was not present but sent a statement praising
Winters' vision as an educator and expressing confidence in her abilities.
Winters was absent because of a board meeting at Webatuck scheduled
for the same night. She will attend a special meeting at the Onteora
High School at 7:00 p.m. on Monday, March 1, for the purpose of formally
introducing her to the community.
Superintendent Hal Rowe continued to paint a gloomy picture of the budget
situation for next year, reporting that requests from administrators
and department heads amount to about $4,140,000 in increases, while
hikes in employee retirement fund contributions come to over $1 million,
a 225 percent increase for teachers and 122 percent for non-certified
staff. Employee health insurance increases are actually lower than expected
at 13 percent. Rowe summarized the three categories of budget increases,
with 46.5 percent coming from employee benefits, 26.5 percent from negotiated
salary hikes, and 27 percent from programs, equipment, and services.
In contrast, state aid, which comprised 13 percent of last year's budget,
will go up only $12,000, or one-eighteenth of one percent, if Governor
Pataki's proposed state budget is accepted by the legislature.
"The challenge is how to fashion a budget that will get the most
mileage in educational opportunities and be acceptable to the community,"
said Rowe. "We do not have enough information to make decisions
about the tax levy. As always, the school district is forced to build
a budget before knowing what the revenue will be. We're not crying or
complaining, but we're talking about it a lot because we're going to
be living with this situation for several years."
At the March 8 regular meeting, the board will hear presentations of
budgets for instruction, technology, and Pupil Personnel Services, which
comprises special education. The superintendent's preliminary budget
recommendation is due on March 22. Trustee Meg Carey asked Rowe, "Before
that, will you be giving us strategies for reducing the budget?"
He replied that he would.
Rowe also reported on enrollment figures, which are expected to decline
through 2013, according to a study prepared in January 2004 by FACTS,
an educational research and consulting firm that provides statistical
reports to school districts in New York State. Projections are based
on historical enrollment figures, local live births reported by the
Health Department, census data, and new building permits granted by
town building inspectors. While the district had, at one time 200 students
in kindergarten, the present kindergarten enrollment is 113 and is projected
to be 119 for next year. There will be 138 seniors leaving this June,
reducing the current total enrollment from 2147 to around 2130. The
projected total for the year 2013 is 1646 students. "These numbers
are based on time-tested procedures for making projections," said
Rowe. "They could change for many reasons."
Architects say it will cost $165,000 to stabilize the waterlogged basement
and prevent further mold infestation of the now vacant Ryan Building
at the West Hurley Elementary School, according to Facilities Committee
chair Tom Rosato. A capital project would have to be offered for voter
approval in order to preserve the historic school building, although
this figure does not cover what would be required to bring the building
up to code for occupancy, an additional $750,000 to $850,000. The Facilities
Committee is compiling a list of other infrastructure upgrades
to be covered in capital projects over the next five years, including
athletic facilities, high school auditorium seats, paving, lighting,
heating, piping, wiring, windows, playgrounds, furniture, lockers, and
But Stanley is also worrying that there is another major break somewhere
on the mountainside leading up to the system's water tank.
troubles began February 17 when water started spewing from taps in bursts.
Depending upon the location, it either had dirt in it, or at least a
murky discoloration. In some places the water flowed a milky white color.
In at least fifteen homes, the water had been turned off.
Ric Ricciardella said that he was made aware of the problem when a massive
pressure drop kept water from flowing up to the District's water
holding tank in the western portion of the district. By Monday the trouble
spot was isolated, but the actual leak had not been found.
somewhere up near West Street," he said.
shut off the system in that vicinity, leaving at least 15 homes without
water. By isolating the problem the rest of the district is now clearing
up, he said.
else am I gonna do?" he added.
continued to search for the leak, Ricciardella said, but with lots of
snow and ice covering clues, and with frost driven deeply into the ground,
locating the break was difficult. Now that a first leak has been found
and fixed, Stanley wants to concentrate on what he suspects is a mountainside
is technology to find the leak quickly, but Ricciardella said it comes
at a cost of $2000. Instead, Ricciardella has hired an expert at a cost
of $150 a day to find the trouble.
town Supervisor Robert Cross Jr. said that if spending $2000 gets the
water back in good shape for everyone, it is money well spent. Several
leak detection experts have been contacted, he said, but none can show
up until later this week. At least the preliminary searching by Ricciaardella's
crew will rule out portions of the system, according to Cross, so the
leak detection may not be as expensive as anticipated.
shows up first has the job," Cross added. "We want to solve
complained that the previous town administration made a mistake by eliminating
the construction of a second reservoir for the district when design
plans for the new water filtration system were amended. While the filter
system is state of the art, Cross said, without an adequate water supply
it means nothing.
like building a high performance race car and only putting a two cylinder
engine in it," he said.
Tuesday, after crews had isolated a section of the system that contained
the culprit leak, Stanley was further disappointed. When he opened
the door of the system's main reservoir expecting to see it overflowing
with a plentiful amount of water he found drought.
couldn't believe it. It was right down to the pipe," he said."There
must a problem somewhere else too."
Water Commissioner noted that most leaks occur in the service connections
to homes, where many connections are still of the old fashioned galvanized
pipe variety that was installed near the beginning of last century.
He urges everyone to check their connections in crawl spaces or basements.
If anyone has a problem they should contact him at (845) 688- 7233,